Chibok: Why is our outrage so muted?


1001 days ago, at least 276 young women were kidnapped from Chibok. It is not the first instance of kidnapping in the area and their return in ‘dribs and drabs’ is an exercise in agony. I spent my birthday weekend surrounded by love, family, safety and assurance of my place and value in this world. Surely that is the bare minimum of life and existence? And yet about 200 of this last group of young women and girls remain captive not only to Boko Haram but also to our silence. Our shared inertia. Our disinterest in stories that do not have fast and happy endings. Our appalling attention span that is further diminished by tweeting and Instagram and yes…Facebook.

I am so frustrated by my own lack of ideas and inability to make a meaningful contribution to bringing these young women home. The state seems to be sleepwalking, the AU seems to be disinterested and ECOWAS has seemingly not yet found the means to do something that ought to have happened 1000 days ago – find these women. How many more days? A 1000 more? Do Black lives and Afrikan lives have so little value even to us? Do Women’s lives and Black women have such little currency? Is this why our outrage is so muted?

I watched as these women were paraded by President Buhari recently, many of them so disoriented, distant and deeply haunted. Many have lost their families who moved away from the volatile Chibok area. Others have been so dislocated that they are unable to re-adjust. Nothing can ever be the same again. One cannot unsee, unfeel and unremember.

Many have come back with children, the product of rape and coercive sex. Few of us want to speak of the stigma and shame that accompanies their return. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, nightmares, shame, STDs, fear, paranoia and so much more. A pretty dress and a visit to the President do not erase all this. I suppose this is my own attempt to make sense of such a senseless event and to find balance in such a bizarre and violent context. #1000daystoomany.

 

(Photo Credit: TRT World)

The Second Coming

Nebuchadnezzar outcast in the wilderness

At the risk of evoking the wrath and ire of my own faith community, I am using the metaphor of Donald Trump’s incumbency to describe the ascendancy of so many things that are so wrong with the idea of a Trumped up world. Like most sane and caring quarters of humanity, I was and remain somewhat shell-shocked by the US election result not least its decisive outcome.  Even though it could have gone either way, I had no idea that it veered so far away from an ethical universe.  During his thundering and violently divisive approach to the White House, Trump already created the sort of racist, misogynist, anti migrant, anti-anything that is not full-blooded American sentiment. Whatever that means. Whoever those are including himself, his many wives and children. Even in locker rooms, his coming is a bizarre apparition.

He is certainly anti-anything thoughtful, decent, kind, inclusive, nuanced. Which brings me to the second coming.  A second coming of a rabid re-invention of a polarised and razor thin interpretation of privileged whiteness.

America is in an era that has been marked by a new civil rights movement, one that has necessarily taken social and race solidarity global again. This internationalism had in many ways diminished since the end of the South African apartheid colonial struggles.

Globalised struggle was subverted by most countries’ hard battle to remain afloat in the midst of ongoing assaults of market fundamentalism, state retreat, social exclusion and disenfranchisement that have accompanied society’s underclass and marginalised. The ‘Black Lash‘ against Obama has been apparent by the increased lynching of Black people.  Although largely seen as male targeting men, several Black women and girls have also been targeted.  The othering of non-whiteness has been a rehearsal of the Second Coming. A rehearsal to lynch the reality that America and the world beyond are not the White bastions.

Attempting to recreate and impose a misplaced post Darwinian imagination on the rest of the world is beyond naïve. In today’s global power matrix, it is a risk that the US dare not assume will be met with passively. The world beyond the United States has moved on, and the centrality of the United States as the axis of global power has plummeted probably beyond repair. Like Great Britain before, their era of invincible imperial domination has ended. However like a macabre scene, the decapitated chicken runs dead with its head off causing chaos and blood letting in their wake particularly for those who do not know they are dead yet.

Hillary Clinton remains a deeply divisive candidate who polarised many of my friends on the progressive left. She has a recent history of presiding over Gaddafi’s extra judicial killing and her centrist, hawkish stance did not differentiate her from the bland establishment. Unlike Bernie Saunders, she did not evoke excitement and support. Her and Bill’s race baiting when she ran against Obama in the 2008 are also not entirely forgotten, and the rumours that she ran her husband’s many mistresses out of town have not been quashed. Nevertheless, she is a better option if only because she is a known quantity and somewhat familiar adversary particularly in the Global South. So I remain annoyed at my friends who opted to sit this one out or to vote elsewhere thus splitting the vote and enabling the second coming.

The community insurrections in Ferguson and Baltimore have resonance with the demands made in Cairo and Tunis in 2011. Across South African metropoles, recent protests form a part of a constant reclamation and reiteration of every liberation dividend that was conceded in 1994. It is from one of these cities that I write, in a country that is facing its own paradox of a leader who defies insurmountable odds, using or bypassing democratic, legal and constitutional processes. So Trump is the second coming of familiar phenomena of political impossibilities that become not only tangible realities but almost immoveable beams of obstruction.

His comments on trade policy are complicated mainly because they are a zealously protectionist part of the re-invention of a great America in which Trump predicts America will  ‘win so much that they will get sick of it‘. A world without bi-lateral agreements and international trade obligations that require reciprocity and demand full access to markets for the bullying Northern countries. Trump’s reluctance to proceed with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP] has caused some consternation from markets and cautious relief from some countries in the southern hemisphere who have been resisting the potential assault of global mode of free trade.

Yet Trump is coming from such a toxic place of  ‘Ameri-absorption‘ that any potential gains must be counted and calculated carefully. Indeed the climate denialists have come out to play and global action in this regard is unlikely to be easy. The second coming of increased militarisation of international life and domestic instruments notably the US police give me a cold sweat. How Trump will deal with the insurgencies that sometimes arise on my continent given his hawkish tendencies can only be speculated.

His remarks on South Africa as a crime-ridden mess were ill judged and inflammatory, typical of a parochial invention of Africa as a basket case that Trump favours. Unfortunately for him, we have long memories. There are multiple democratic deficits that have been revealed about the US electoral system (re-counting in three States is taking place at the time of writing) and I have proposed external election monitoring particularly from African, Asian and Latin American countries.  What is particularly disgusting about the Trump moment is that despite all these and his flaws, a whole bunch of people believes him. Along with Brexit, the Global South can only ponder and recalibrate these moments. The re-invention that they represent is as thin and fragile as a reed and subject to the sort of head winds that varied social forces can easily demolish or manipulate for their own ends.

 

(Image Credit: William Blake / Art and the Bible)

#RememberKhwezi: This woman was a revolutionary in the truest sense of the word

A million thoughts running and sprinting across my mind. Fezekile-otherwise known by her nom de guerre ”Khwezi” transitioned from this life two days ago. I have been numb, angry, grief stricken and like many of us, left with a sense of injustice, shame and guilt. This woman was a revolutionary in the truest sense of the word. She sacrificed her relative youth and life aspirations and laid down her life, for a truth that could not be contained in life and will not be crushed by death. I wrote and mobilised along with many other women across this country, many of whom were abused, spat at and received death threats for supporting Fezekile. I often wondered whether I could have done differently, more, been more vigourous and robust in protecting and loving Fezekile both before her exile and after her return. I am ashamed to have been reminded to become ‘un-numb’ when the four young activists, who at the IEC 2 months ago, jerked me out of my sleep walk.

I have sometimes thought of myself as brave. Fezekile was much more than brave. Bravery in fact looks like her and cowered in her presence. She deserves to be remembered as more than ”an accuser”. She was in fact the one who accused us as her name was taken, her face obscured, her mortal life in danger and her being displaced. Her fortitude quietly accuses and reminds me of the value of life, the cost of being steadfast, the disregard of women’s bodies, the ongoing rape of our decency & solidarity, the shame of silent forgetting. Those who knew her speak of her great humour, her deep compassion, her zest for life and learning.

She is a reminder of the brokenness of this country, the neglect of many children of struggle, the violations of trust and our complicity with masculine entitlement. But more than that, she is a reflection of what one day I hope to be. Truly Brave. Brave at all costs for the truth.

To quote Nawal El-Saadawi :

“You are a savage and dangerous woman.
I am speaking the truth. And the truth is savage and dangerous.”

 

(Photo Credit: The Sowetan) (Image Credit: The Daily Maverick / Facebook)

The shaming of Black Women’s bodies cannot continue to be a casual matter

Pretoria Girls High. A disgraceful bastion of White privilege and ongoing violence against the Black psyche. It joins University of Free State, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch, Wits and so many other historically White institutions that remind us and now our children that we are visitors to our own country and extras in the imperial imagination. As a mother of two dreadlocked/braided teen girls, I salute these girls aged 12 to 18 who are rejecting the body shaming that insists that afros, dreadlocks and braids are ”dirty and messy” and the cultural genocide that does not want African pupils to speak African languages to each other at school, the criminalising of their movements that surveys Black girls when they are in groups of more than 2.

I recall being body shamed all through High School because of my baby fat and beautiful African bum. It was brutal. The shaming of Black Women’s bodies cannot continue to be a casual matter. It is violent. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Racist South Africa where White minority imagination is resisting the liberation project and where the revolution IS being televised. Just like 1976, language and Black being are sites of contestation. This Women’s Month is far more meaningful and has done far more to honour the spirit of the 1956 Women’s March than the pointless, vacuous , de-radicalised , ”soft and fluffy” celebrations of the past 15 years. Thank you Khwezi 4, thank you Marikana widows, thank you Caster Semenya and thank you Pretoria Girls High.

Black Girl – you MATTER. Your HAIR matters, your LANGUAGE matters, your CHOICES matter and your VOICE matters. In case I haven’t told you today – you are valuable, loved, precious and powerful. Speak even if your voice shakes and fight even while you are scared. I LOVE you Black Child, Black Girl, and I stand with you. You give me such hope and courage. #Racism and imperialism ARE falling #Afros and Dreadlocks are Rising.

Memory and other mirages

Like June 16th, March 21st and the many dates in between, another missed opportunity to advance a truthful discourse on ownership of both the past and the present looms. The politics and ethics of memory present an ongoing tension for countries such as ours, which are emerging from a period of deeply fragmented recollections of what was and was not. Andre Brink suggests that: “the best we can do is to fabricate metaphors – that is, tell stories – in which, not history, but imaginings of history are invented. “ Although deeply dissatisfactory, this seems to be the narrative pursued by Official historydom.

South Africa is not the only country that is contending with heritage as a site of political battles.

Memory is an act of defiance particularly because erasure is an instinct of conquest. Cultural identity and truthful interpretation of the past are scarce currency in South Africa today. This is largely because the official archives and accounts of political exploits and the historical context of Apartheid colonialism are constructed to privilege partisan political interests. Equally inimical is officialdom’s insistence on erasing or diminishing the wrong doing of former oppressors. The act of remembering is nourished by deliberate and vigilant consciousness that is anchored by a strong ethical framework. It must be divested of party political claims that clutter the national discourse.

A particularly capricious form of national identity and nationalism, which is often utilised in neo–colonial states, can promote or consolidate political objectives. The fabricated reconciliation, as part of South Africa’s heritage, serves the merchandising of the fictitious rainbow nation rather than the redemption of the Afrikan psyche. Such sentiment is difficult to reverse or reshape once wielded. The United States has similarly built itself on the imagination of the American Dream even though the contradictions of racism, sexism and class oppression have kept a huge part of the population in conditions of poverty, early death, police brutality, unemployment and despair. Despite this, millions of people enter America to partake in a heritage that extends to very few people beyond the white, male, middle class. The South African scenario is similarly unfolding and the practise of manufactured nation building has come at a price of dispossession, coercive silencing and constant un-remembering. This contributes to creating the condition of unknowing and unseeing the truth as a survival mechanism.

The ethics of remembering should not allow the sacrifices of the dead to be diminished by acts of political vandalism. The vandalism that we witness daily has multiple locations. The education system has remained uncritical of allowing a colonial aesthetic to shape the minds and discourses of young minds. The manipulative form of nationalism that has been sanctioned over the past twenty years seems determined to reconstruct a nation of disfigured memories and half-truths. The heritage industry is sometimes another site of vandalism rather than a broadly representative recollection of the past 350 years of battle and painful formation of this nation in all its contradictions. Corrosive recollections are not unique to this country. They reflect the characteristics, power and intent of the ones who shape history.

The most spurious wars such as the ‘War on Terror‘ have been valorised for posterity in some quarters. Enquiry of memory must be accompanied by an underlying discomfort and reality that memory is often subjective and chauvinistic. This necessitates greater space for multiple and competing narratives. In the context of neo-colonial nation building, these narratives should be anchored to formation and celebration of Afrikan stories, contexts, histories and herstories. The extent of the genocide on our being, our continent, our imaginations and humanity requires an ongoing and dynamic rehabilitation of our core. An ethical memorial framework should transfer not only political and economic power, but also transfer the sovereignty of memory and Afrikan identities.

Erasure has allowed and enabled the men and nations who violated the ‘comfort women ‘during the World War 2 to remain unaccountable. Erasure has enabled the slave trade in Congo, which reduced the population by 70%, to be airbrushed even in national discourses. Erasure was the catalyst for the forced removal of millions of aboriginal children in America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand (Aotearoa) from their loving families, in order to be culturally whitewashed in cruel state orphanages or adopted into white families. Erasure is the reason that Welsh and Irish children’s tongues were cut in English run schools, to prevent them from asserting self-knowledge in Gaelic. Erasure has removed Shaka from Heritage Day, removed Moshoeshoe, Bambaatha, Manthatisi, Modjadji and countless others from the national calendar. The names and battles of the ones who fell and continue to fall today should be etched in our consciousness .

Heritage is always contested and the uncomfortable connection with colonial legacies is evident in the architecture around us, the food we eat, the music we hear, the languages of instruction and commerce. This hybrid of culture should neither confuse nor befuddle our aspirations towards Afrikan consciousness embodied in our poetry, languages, literature, moments of national remembrance and ways of being. Millions of Afrikan minds, ideas, words, thoughts, inventions, musical notes, physical efforts, intellectual endeavours and epistemic undertakings have contributed towards and built imaginations, monuments and empires across the world. Despite this, the US and European empires remains unapologetic and impervious to the huge debts they owe to Afrikan creativity, brilliance and blood. The subjugation of others seems to be an indelible core of those empires and the defence of the indefensible an inherent legacy born out of a culture of conquest.

The interrogation of memory and the heritage creates is an ethical requirement of nation building and also a powerful opportunity to reframe and challenge the narratives of “reconciliation and truth” that have been efficient midwives for erasure and amnesia. It is a potent instrument of vexing political sentiment. Democratisation of memory removes domination of memory discourse from those who can write or conquer media & publishing houses to essentially frame a narrow and often disjointed interpretation of history. Democratisation brings the stories and accounts of communities and individuals across the socio-political spectrum to the centre. Shared or social memory is the gamut of traditions, languages, food, struggles, legends, taboos, spirituality, battles and interpretations of events and that lend themselves to the act and practise of being Afrikan. Self-knowledge is the highest forms of sovereignty and any nation or people who do not protect or even recognise multiple forms of knowing and remembering are disfiguring their identities.

The negation of one set of memories over another is inscribed by the negation of one set of experiences over another. The politics of negation and erasure in neo-colonial South Africa have resulted in a particular framing of patriotism that has dislocated the Africanist and Black Conscious contributions from the struggle and corralled collective thinking accordingly. Equally problematic is the elitism and othering that is promoted by the framing and site of heritage. Rather than being diminished to a dashiki or Seshoeshoe once a year, heritage ought to form the normative acts, symbols and forms of our daily existence. Traditional clothing is a powerful symbol of being and rather than being fetishised once a year, should from the tapestry of our community, work places, schools until the colonial imagination is diminished. This tapestry includes the languages, names, poetry, literature and human ethic that contribute to the people we are. Nation building requires that we stand as witnesses to the full truth of the past and the present. It requires a critical mass comprising of the plurality of the many who know, who see and who speak.

To quote Cabral: “The colonists usually say that it was they who brought us into history: today we show that this is not so.”

 

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian / Gallo)